Monday, October 27, 2008

'palestine aloud' in cadogan hall

Celebrating a Catastrophe
by Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, 27 October 2008

At the end of ‘Palestine Aloud’, a cultural celebration held in London’s Cadogan Hall last Wednesday night, the General Secretary of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) Betty Hunter came on stage to thank those who had made the evening such a success. She paid particular tribute to the staff of the Hall, who had “come under pressure not to allow this evening to go ahead”.

The 60th anniversary of the establishment of Israel is being celebrated by numerous cultural happenings in countries including Britain. But, as Hunter’s remark suggests, it was always going to be difficult to mount a cultural event in a major London venue to mark the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe).

In the weeks leading up to ‘Palestine Aloud’, the administration of the Cadogan Hall was subjected to complaints and pressure from certain quarters. The weekly Jewish Chronicle reported that the Hall had apologized for any upset caused by the notice of ‘Palestine Aloud’ in the brochure of its autumn season.

The apology was in response to a complaint to the Cadogan’s general manager Adam McGinlay and senior executives over an advertisement in the brochure. The advertisement noted that “2008 is the 60th anniversary of the nakba (catastrophe) when thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee their homes in the wake of the establishment of the state of Israel, and this concert is dedicated to them.” The advertisement said it was in support of PSC, and gave the Campaign’s web address.

The complainant said that it was wrong for the Cadogan to “take such a one-sided view on an emotive political subject like this” and added: “What about the civilian population of Sderot in Israel, who live under a daily barrage of indiscriminate Palestinian rockets – any opinion or concert for them?”

McGinaly responded that he was “personally unhappy” to receive such a complaint, and added: “I sincerely apologize if we have, albeit unwittingly, angered or upset you. This was never our intention, as we aim to present cultural concerts celebrating music the world over.”

He said he had taken up the matter with PSC, which had told him that the concert would be a cultural event with no political speeches. PSC had said: “Our aim in this event is to promote Palestinian culture, particularly as in the West most people only know about Palestine through the conflict and politics.” The Hall’s marketing manager Lisa McFaul pointed out that the Hall has previously hosted the Israel Philharmonic orchestra and an event run by the Jewish Music Institute.

One of those participating in ‘Palestine Aloud’, the veteran Jewish stage and screen actress Miriam Margolyes (pictured), attracted controversy before the event with criticism of Israel. During an appearance as guest of the week on the BBC Radio 4 series Desert Island Discs she said that while being Jewish is very important to her, “I have to mention also that I reject many of the things that I see in the Jewish world, and I passionately object to the way that Israel is dealing with Palestine.”
She added: “I have been castigated by many Jews who feel that I am betraying my people, and I can’t help it, I have to say what I believe. And I am a proud Jew but I am also an ashamed Jew.”

Margolyes was unable to attend ‘Palestine Aloud’ in person, but she appeared via a video link and, after stating that she is a Jew but not a Zionist, she read from the Palestinian author Suad Amiri’s darkly comic book “Sharon and my Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries”.

The director of ‘Palestine Aloud’, Poppy Burton-Morgan, explained in her Welcome Note in the program that last year she and her partner Will Reynolds (lighting and projection designer of the evening) last year had “the privilege of visiting Palestine”. They had been working on a Choir of London production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” which toured the West Bank, directed by actor and theatre director Sam West. Burton Morgan said: “It was a life-changing experience for us both and I must thank Sam from the bottom of my heart for asking me to replace him when he had to pull out as director for tonight’s show.”

Burton-Morgan added: “Tonight is not a night of political protest but rather a night of performance – a celebration of Palestinian life and culture.” It was “not merely a lament for the horrors of the past – the nakba whose anniversary this event commemorates – but also a celebration of the thriving Palestinian culture of the present and more optimistically a declaration of hope for the future.”
The Cadogan Hall is located near Sloane Square in the upmarket Chelsea area of London. It seats more than 900 people, and the program of ‘Palestine Aloud’ made the most of the spacious venue. Changing images of Palestinian scenery were projected behind the stage throughout the evening.

There was a line-up of excellent musicians. The Palestinian singer and musician Reem Kelani, accompanied by pianist Bruno Heinen, opened the evening with “Galilean Medley”. Later in the program the duo performed “Ode to the Downtrodden” by Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish.

The Palestinian singer, composer and oud player Marwan Abado travelled with his percussionist Peter Rosmanith from Vienna for the event. Abado was born in Beirut in 1967 as a refugee, and moved to Vienna in 1985. He and Rosmanith (pictured, photo credit Bettina Frenzel)

have developed a distinctive and original sound, with warmth and intimacy: they performed “Rain” and “On the Street”. In two affecting performances, Jordanian pianist Tala Tutunji, who studied music at Trinity College of Music in London, performed a Samuel Barber cello and piano sonata with cellist David Lale, and “Elegy” by Amo Babadjanian.

The British musicians included two of the country’s most acclaimed guitarists, John Williams and John Etheridge. Williams performed Recuerdos de la Alhambra composed by Francisco Tarrega. The two guitarists played “Ragajuma”, which is associated with the Senegalese singer El Hadj N'Diaye. The Choir of London (pictured, credit Jim Four 2006) an admirably talented and spirited assembly of 30 young singers, sang “Magnificat” by Giles Swayne and “Song of Songs” by Clemens non Papa.

The readers during the evening included actor Corin Redgrave (brother of Vanessa Redgrave) and his actress wife Kika Markham, who are long-time stalwart supporters of the Palestinian cause. They read extracts from the Palestinian lawyer and author Raja Shehadeh’s book “Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape”, which won the Orwell Prize for political writing earlier this year. Their readings captured the ironic tone of the encounter between the narrator and an Israeli settler whom he comes across smoking hashish alone in the countryside.

The Lebanese novelist Hanan Al-Shaykh and the author and former associate foreign editor of the Guardian, Victoria Brittain, read the Arabic original and English translation of the late Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “Not as a Foreign Tourist Does”. Jordanian Samer Raimouny read from his own poem “Diaspora of the Soul: (The Taboo of Allahu Akbar”).

The distinguished actress Juliet Stevenson read “What She Said” by poet Lisa Suhair Majaj, in which a mother living in the shadow of occupation and violence warns her child not to play outside. Another major British actor, Jeremy Irons, read Nathalie Handel’s poem “Bethlehem” by video link.

The finale of the evening was a specially-commissioned work by the young composer Jessica Dannheisser to the words of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “I am from There”. The new work suited both the occasion and the grand scale of the Cadogan Hall. It brought on stage the Choir of London together with all the readers and musicians from the evening, and the Choir of London. Reem Kelani was the soloist in the dramatically moving commission.

PSC General Secretary Betty Hunter said the evening had been “a really amazing celebration of Palestinian culture”, which showed the increasing support for the Palestinians in the world of arts and culture. But with the 60th anniversary of the nakba coming to a close there is no sign that things are improving; instead there is more death and more silence. Many in the Hall would have agreed with her concluding words: “It is time to end this silence”.

international psychiatrists protest at israel's gaza blockade

Many newspapers are carrying the AFP report on the demonstration yesterday by mental health specialists from various countries and international human rights activists at the Erez crossing. AFP said that dozens of mental health specialists took part in the protest at "Israel's closure of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip after they were prevented from entering to attend a conference there. Around 70 demonstrators waved signs denouncing the Israeli closure of the Palestinian territory, with slogans such as 'Let Gaza live' and 'Israel: a medical conference is a security threat?"

The conference on mental health in the impoverished coastal territory is hosted by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In the conference to be held today, doctors in the West Bank town of Ramallah will participate via video conferencing. The focus of the conference is the impact of the Israeli blockade on the mental health of Gaza residents.

AFP said: "The Israeli military rejected the doctors' accusations in a statement, saying it would allow medics to enter Gaza to provide care but not to attend a conference in a 'territory controlled by terrorists.'"

The agency's report added: "Israel has sealed the territory of 1.5 million people off from all but limited humanitarian aid since the Islamist Hamas movement -- which is pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state -- seized power there in June 2007."

The Jerusalem Post report extensively quotes civil administration spokesman Peter Lerner. Some of the international mental health specialists held a press conference in east Jerusalem's Ambassador Hotel yesterday to voice their objections.

Lerner described the mental health conference in the Gaza Strip as a "political demonstration and the exploitation of science for political needs that only help the terror organization that controls it."

The Post added: "Meanwhile, a group of Canadian Jews called Independent Jewish Voices issued a statement attacking the Israeli authorities for preventing the foreign participants from going to Gaza. Organization coordinator Diana Ralph claimed that 'the complicity of the Canadian government in supporting the humanitarian disaster of the Gaza blockade is making the situation worse.' Three members of Ralph's organization - Dr. Mark Etkin, Dr. Judith Deutsch and Dr. Jim Deutsch - had been scheduled to go to Gaza."

One of the British would-be participants in the conference, due to speak in Ramallah, is Dr. Derek Summerfield of South London and Maudsley, "who has strongly criticized Israel over the years in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and advocated a medical and academic boycott of this country."

When I hear reports on trauma in Gaza I remember the Maudsley-trained psychiatrist Dr Eyad Sarraj [pictured], founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) in 1990, at a time when he was the only psychiatrist serving Gaza. He told me in an interview in 2001:

“In Gaza now every single person, adult or child, is traumatised to a different degree. Do you know what the children’s preoccupation is now? Guns, terror, violence – nothing else – and they are very jumpy.”
Around half of Gaza’s 1 million inhabitants are under 16 years old. He told me that the widespread fear and terror among children was causing numerous problems. There was a big increase in the number of children who suffer from bedwetting and insomnia, while in school children are finding it hard to concentrate and are showing rebellious attitudes.

More than seven years on things are even worse, and the blockade is exacerbating the situation.

A press release on the GCMHP website says that the Israeli authorities have told 120 international mental health doctors that they will not be allowed to cross into Gaza for the conference. The gathering is the fifth annual conference of GMHP, and is entitled 'Siege and Mental Health: Walls vs Bridges'.

The military authorities forbade the entry into Gaza not only of the foreign mental health specialists but also of Israeli physicians from the Tel-Aviv based Physicians for Human Rights, who on other occasions are given access to the Strip, as well as of Palestinian physicians and academics from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

GCMHP says: "The denial of entry permit was sweeping and arbitrary, for all requests made through the WHO without exception, and without even claiming that there was any 'security' reason for the denial of permits. This is a further exacerbation of the siege on the Gaza Strip, while public opinion is focused on the ongoing government crisis."

As GCMHP puts it: 'Walls Triumph over Bridges ... conference on siege is a victim of siege'.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

reem kelani & bruno heinen in pre-'poetry international' gig

Palestinian singer and musician Reem Kelani, with Bruno Heinen on piano, played a gig early yesterday evening in the foyer (now, post-South Bank makeover, dubbed 'Front Room') of the Queen Elizabeth Hall as a prelude to the first event in this year's bi-annual Poetry International festival.

The gig came after readings by young people - including actors and members of the South Bank's Emerging Artists in Residence project and Street Genius - of poems by Palestinian poets such as Mahmoud Darwish and Samih al-Qasim, and Israeli peace activist Tal Nitzan. The readers injected a special energy and engagement into poems such as Darwish's great early classic Identity Card.
During the gig, artists from Creative Connection (Southbank Centre Artists in Residence, led by Tim Casswell) made sketches on a wall of paper to the side of the Front Room and brilliantly captured the event's faces, spirit, and characteristic Reem in-performance asides. Below are samples of the mural, plus comments on the performances from members of the audience [click on the pictures to enlarge]. The event ended in a wonderful spontaneous jam session in which the poetry readers joined Reem & Bruno on stage.

Later, a passer-by with dark curly hair could not resist taking out his pen and, where it said Free Palestine, adding Eretz Yisrael. In itself symbolic.
The Palestinian theme continued during the opening session of Poetry International, featuring John Berger, Rema Hammami and David Constantine. The focus was the much-lamented Palestinain poet Mahmoud Darwish, who died on 9th August. The event started with a film of Berger's reading of Ghassan Kanafani's story Letter from Gaza. Berger and Hammami read from their translation of Darwish's great poem Mural, written after his 1998 heart attack and there was a screening of Darwish's last poetry reading. The Spring issue of Modern Poetry in Translation, which David Constantine edits with his wife Helen, features poetry from Palestine, including the translation of Mural.

Monday, October 20, 2008

channel 4 premiers 'the shooting of thomas hurndall'

Tragedy on tape
Susannah Tarbush

Saudi Gazette October 20 2008

The shooting in the head of 21-year-old British humanitarian volunteer Tom Hurndall by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sniper in Rafah, Gaza in April 2003 was a tragedy that changed the lives of his parents, sister and two brothers forever. Tom was left brain dead and remained in a coma until his death nine months later in The Royal Free Hospital, London.

Compounding the family’s distress was the obstructiveness of the Israeli authorities and IDF over attempts to establish the exact circumstances of the shooting of Tom, a photography student at Manchester Metropolitan University. He had been shot as he tried to rescue three children during sniping from an IDF watchtower, and was targeted despite wearing a fluorescent orange jacket that clearly identified him as an unarmed International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteer.

Tom’s lawyer father Anthony and the family were resolute in their efforts to uncover the truth. Their persistence culminated in a military court’s jailing of IDF sniper Taysir Hayb to eight years in prison on August 11 2005, after he was found guilty of Tom’s manslaughter and of obstructing the course of justice.

The Hurndalls’ fight for justice for Tom has now been made into a two-hour feature film, “The Shooting of Tom Hurndall”, which was premiered on Britain’s Channel 4 TV last week. The film is directed by Rowan Joffé and was written by Simon Block, with Charles Furneaux as executive producer.

Joffé denies that the film is anti-Israeli. “Our feeling is that Israel’s democratic spirit is strong enough to accept a degree of self-awareness and self-criticism. To assume that this film is anti-Israeli is to so belittle Israel’s ability to reflect on itself that you’re doing exactly what you’re charging your opponents with.”

The power of the film owes much to the strength of its two lead performances: Stephen Dillane as Anthony, and New Zealander Kerry Fox as Tom’s teacher mother Jocelyn. Tom’s parents had been divorced for six years when he was shot, and a sense of discord and glimmers of a possible reconciliation underlie their interactions. Anthony is a self-contained character, with his English understatement and dry humor, but Dillane also taps into his emotions of heartbreak over his son and anger over the IDF’s lack of cooperation. He is dogged in pursuing his investigations into the shooting.

Fox portrays Jocelyn as a warm, attractive, compassionate woman who had not wanted Tom to set off on his journey to the Middle East and is haunted by the fact that she did not say did not say goodbye to him properly before he left.

Tom is played by Matthew McNulty, and at several points in the film we see again the sniping that felled him during a demonstration by Palestinian civilians. Tom, who had been taking photographs, had gone to the aid of three terrified children when he was shot.

The family dynamics are sensitively conveyed. The younger of Tom’s brothers, 12-year-old Freddy (Gus Lewis), idolizes Tom and struggles to come to terms with what has happened to him. Eighteen-year-old Billy (Harry Treadaway), has a fierce loyalty to Tom, and sleeps on the floor outside his hospital room in Israel. Tom’s sensible yet vulnerable sister Sophie is played by Jodie Whittaker.

The Hurndalls find a valuable ally at the British Embassy – defense attaché Tom Fitzalan Howard (Mark Bazeley). He warns them from the beginning that they are unlikely to get anywhere with the Israelis, but is supportive of their endeavors to establish the truth.

The first IDF report on the shooting is a whitewash, based on a statement cooked up by Hayb (a taut performance from Ziad Backry) and his commanding officer in which Hayb claims that a gunman, whom he had assumed was a Palestinian militiaman, had fired on him. He was given permission by radio to return fire, and fired a single shot.

Some British Embassy officials warn Anthony against going the media. One warns him that the Israelis will claim he is “anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli, anti-Zionist”. Anthony retorts:. “If you or they think that we are going to be silenced by this, then you are very much mistaken. “ As he storms off, one of the officials says sarcastically; “One loose cannon against the entire Israeli army; that’s just what we need.”

Anthony embarks on his own investigation, taking photographs and measurements at the scene of the shooting and gathering affidavits from witnesses. Eventually he is granted an audience with the IDF, and complains at the length of time it has taken them to meet him. The Foreign Office then says it wants to present his report to the Israelis, and gives it full backing. The Judge Advocate General’s office of the IDF sends investigators to question Hayb about the discrepancies between his account of what happened and Anthony Hurndall’s thoroughly-researched report.

Hayb is arrested and complains to the Judge Advocate General’s investigators that his mother was strip searched when she came to visit him. He has asked a military policeman if the mothers of arrested Jewish soldiers were also strip searched, but received no answer.

Asked why he shot at Tom when he knew he was unarmed, Hayb says he recognized Tom as the person who had been taking photographs of the Israeli post, and that he had been teaching Tom a lesson. He says it had been his job to keep the area clear. “Anyone who came into the sterile zone it was my job to clear them out. Palestinians, ISM, anyone.” The implication is that it was considered OK to shoot at unarmed civilians. At the end of the interview Hayb loses his temper and is hauled off kicking and screaming, shouting that he has done everything by the book and followed regulations.
The film humanizes Hayb, a decorated sniper in Gaza, and looks at his position as a Bedouin Arab within the overwhelmingly Jewish IDF. He had volunteered to join the IDF; “I wanted to know why,” says Roland Joffé. “Why is an Arab Israeli firing at Palestinians? The complexity of that was something I started looking at immediately. In some senses it’s the story we are telling – a war story, so it’s more compelling if you tell it from both sides of the battle lines.” One scene shows Hayb at home with his mother and siblings, who can tell that something is troubling him.

Jocelyn sees some parallels between Tom and Hayb. As Tom lies in his coma she tells him about Taysir, “20 years old, a boy, like you. Two brothers and a sister like you. A mother and a father, like you. His whole damned life ahead of him.”

The Hurndalls suspect that because Hayb is an Arab Israeli he has been dealt with much more harshly than an Israeli Jewish soldier would have been. At the end of the film its is noted that his sentence was more than four times longer than any sentence previously imposed on an IDF soldier for shooting an unarmed civilian in the occupied territories.

The killing of Tom has had a lasting impact on the Hurndalls. The film states at its conclusion: “Anthony, Jocelyn and Sophie Hurndall continue to campaign for IDF accountability for the unlawful killing of civilians in Palestine.”

Jocelyn’s moving book, “Defy the Stars: The Life and Tragic Death of Tom Hurndall” was published by Bloomsbury last year. Today she is the Development Director of the London-based registered charity Friends of Birzeit University, campaigning for funds and support for the beleaguered university in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Tom’s sister Sophie is also working for a UK Palestinian charity: she is Events Manager at Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

zoe heller's novel 'the believers'

photo of Zoe Heller by Sigrid Estrada
One of the unexpected delights of this novel was encountering an endearing Egyptian character living in the US - a middle-aged newsagent working in a New York hospital, the unlikely love object of the overweight, less than happily married daughter of the acerbic central character Audrey. Khaled could almost have strolled into The Believers from the pages of Alaa al-Aswany's 'Chicago'.
I very much enjoyed The Believers, despite the endlessly repeated mantra of critics that her characters are so unsympathetic. Hard to see why it didn't even make the Man Booker longlist, or shortlist come to that. The portaits and interactions of the members of the dysfunctional Jewish family and their divergent beliefs are fascinating and funny; poignant and perceptive. Great to read such an intelligent work, and I look forward to going through it all over again.

Monday, October 13, 2008

mahmoud darwish translator fady joudah wins ghobash-banipal prize

A Magical Metamorphosis
Susannah Tarbush

13 October 2008 Saudi Gazette

The awarding of the annual Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation at a ceremony in London had a particular poignancy this year, as the award went to the translator of poems by the hugely-lamented Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who died on August 9.

Darwish learned not long before his death that the translation of “The Butterfly’s Burden”, comprising three of his late works, had won the prize. His translator, fellow-Palestinian Fady Joudah [pictured below in London], recalls how happy Darwish was about the award. Worth £2,000 Sterling, the prize is sponsored by Omar Saif Ghobash of the UAE in memory of his father the late Saif Ghobash, who had a passion for Arabic and other literature.

Darwish’s voice sings out from the pages of “The Butterfly’s Burden” in the translation by 37-year-old Joudah, a Houston-based medical doctor and poet who won the 2007 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition for his first collection “The Earth in the Attic”. (Texas-born Joudah received some of his education at school in Saudi Arabia, where his father was a teacher).

The three collections in “The Butterfly’s Burden” are “The Stranger’s Bed” (1998), “A State of Siege” (2002) and “Don’t Apologize for What You’ve Done” (2003). “The Butterfly’s Burden” was first published by the US publisher Copper Canyon Press. The British edition is produced by groundbreaking poetry publisher Bloodaxe Books. One of the many virtues of “The Butterfly’s Burden” is that it is a bilingual edition, with the Arabic on the left hand pages and the English translations on the facing pages.

The Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize is one of six major translation prizes, administered by the Society of Authors, which were awarded at a high-profile event in the Queen Elizabeth Hall at London’s South Bank Center. The main event was preceded by readings by the winners from their translations: Joudah read Darwish’s poem “Not as a Foreign Tourist Does”. The prizes were awarded by the editor of the Times Literary Supplement, Sir Peter Stodhard. The novelist Louis de Bernières, author of “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”, then gave the 2008 Sebald Lecture on the art of literary translation. His lecture took the form of the reading of his short story “A Day Out for Mehmet Erbil”.

Arabic was the only non-European language for which there was a prize this year. The judges of the Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize, now in its third year, were literary translator Marilyn Booth of the University of Illinois, author Aamer Hussein, the commissioning editor of Bloomsbury publishing house Bill Swainson and literary translator Professor Roger Allen of the University of Pennsylvania.

Allen, who chaired the judges for the Banipal Trust, said: “The translator’s sensitivity to the nuances and music of the original texts is already evident in the way in which the poetry is introduced and the translation process discussed in the Preface. Darwish is there described as ‘a songmaker whose vocabulary is accessible but whose mystery is not bashful’.”

The English versions of the poems “replicate, deliberately so, the structures of the original poems that parallel them on the opposite page, and yet they can be read in their English forms as wonderful transfers of the images and music of the Arabic poems. It goes without saying that this is a major achievement.”

Allen added: “Darwish’s recent contributions to contemporary Arabic poetry and to the literary tradition of his Palestinian people – most especially the siege poem emerging from the Second Intifada – are here made available in a carefully produced and beautifully translated volume.”.

Marilyn Booth said that Joudah’s “brilliant translation and presentation of recent works by the renowned poet Mahmoud Darwish allows the reader of English to savor the solid and carefully created building blocks of Darwish’s bold and delicate imagery, and the echoes of his sound patterns.”

Ghassan Nasr was the runner-up with his translation of the late Palestinian writer Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s last novel “The Journals of Sarab Affan” (Syracuse University Press). In the judges’ view: “As is to be expected with the writings of this poet-novelist, the Arabic text is couched in language of exquisite beauty, and Ghassan Nasr succeeds admirably in transferring the nuances of the original to an English version that is a pleasure to read.”

Nancy Roberts’ translation of Egyptian novelist Salwa Bakr’s “The Man from Bashmour” (American University in Cairo Press) was highly commended. The jury was “deeply impressed by Bakr’s courageous novelistic exploration of Egypt’s complex relationship with its Christian (Coptic) community during the 9th century AD.” The text uses complex levels of discourse, “and the translation project has therefore been a significant challenge, one that has been met with great success by the translator.”

The poems in “The Butterfly’s Burden” may surprise some of those who are familiar with earlier, more overtly political, works by Darwish in English translation. As Marilyn Booth puts it: “Darwish has long been an eloquent voice for Palestinian identity, aspirations and rights, but his poetry is never reducible to politics, and this volume above all communicates Darwish’s mighty artistic presence at this utterly mature period of his career.”

In an interview on BBC Radio 3’s cultural Night Waves program, Joudah was asked whether Darwish was a political poet or whether politics “happened” to him. He replied: “Perhaps in the English language, whether in England or the US, we separate political poets and non-political poets and in that there is some sort of an implicit sort of derogatory intention. And I think that the political ‘happened’ to Darwish, what else is he to do? And there is a particular kind of luxury to be a contemporary British or US poet and not to have to deal so much with the problematic, particularly the problematic of Palestine.”

Joudah noted that Darwish’s later works “do not necessarily focus on the political in that traditional sense that he started with in the 60s and 70s. He moved past Palestine into Palestine as a metaphor for a collective human situation – that of exile – and I think that explains his popularity around the world. He also was very loved in the Arab world, and was perhaps the Arab poet of his time.”

The most political of the three books in “The Butterfly’s Burden” is “A State of Siege”, relating to the siege of Ramallah by Israeli forces in 2002. The judges singled out “A State of Siege” for particular praise, but Joudah revealed that Darwish had not wanted him to include this book in his translation. “He correctly thought many people would focus on ‘State of Siege’ and not the other two more complete artistic books."

Joudah said: “One of the things that makes Darwish a brilliant poet is his ability to change his language: the language in ‘The Stranger’s Bed’ is starkly different from the language in ‘Don’t Apologize for What You’ve Done’ - and the key to that is passing through ‘State of Siege’.”

Asked how Darwish would be remembered, Joudah had no doubt that “he won’t be remembered as only a political poet: I do think with absolute confidence that he has achieved immortality in his language, the Arabic language, and I think he has been celebrated the world over for much more than the political, for being a poet of exile, for being a poet that has taken the self into its several others.”